publications full of ideas
The Case of the Vanishing Twitter Account and CFAA Liability

11.6.2017

Last week, an unknown Twitter contractor briefly suspended President Trump’s Twitter account. The episode lasted 11 minutes. On its face, it may seem like a relatively small matter, but existing law could make a federal case out of it.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) prohibits unauthorized access to a protected computer system. It also bans use beyond authorized access. Courts around the country have diverged widely on what constitutes unauthorized access. One judge has observed that sharing a Netflix password could technically violate the statute.

The CFAA also provides for civil penalties, paving the way for a potential civil lawsuit against the Twitter contractor.

Legal liability may hinge on the contractor’s duties. For instance, if tasked with monitoring high-profile accounts, the contractor may at least arguably have been acting within the scope of his or her responsibilities. On the other hand, if those duties had no connection with the president’s account, any defenses would be far more tenuous.

Twitter itself may want to act to discourage future self-appointed censors. And even if the company does not act, federal prosecutors may feel unable to pass on such a high-profile instance.

CFAA experts will be watching future developments with interest. Courts, academics, and attorneys may diverge widely on their views of the CFAA applications in many instances: some like it, some would block it, and others are more muted in their criticism. But virtually all agree that the current state of the law is a mess. The case of the vanishing account may provide the perfect vehicle to rationalize the scope and enforcement of the law. One thing is for certain, this story will be worth following.

Saad Gul and Mike Slipsky, editors of NC Privacy Law Blog, are partners with Poyner Spruill LLP. They advise clients on a wide range of privacy, data security, and cyber liability issues, including risk management plans, regulatory compliance, cloud computing implications, and breach obligations. Saad (@NC_Cyberlaw) may be reached at 919.783.1170 or sgul@poynerspruill.com. Mike may be reached at 919.783.2851 or mslipsky@poynerspruill.com.

Physical Address: 301 Fayetteville Street, Suite 1900, Raleigh, NC 27601

related information

what's new at the firm

Liza Nye Joins Poyner Spruill LLP

3/22/2018

RALEIGH, MARCH 22, 2018 – Poyner Spruill is pleased to announce Liza Nye has joined the firm as an associate in Poyner Spruill’s Banking and Financial Services section.

Poyner Spruill partner honored with excellence award from Federal Bar Association chapter

2/27/2018

The Eastern District of North Carolina chapter of the Federal Bar Association (FBA) honored Poyner Spruill partner David Long last week with its second annual Judge David W. Daniel Award for Excellence in the Legal Community.

WEBINAR EVENT: New CMS ROPs for SNFs and what the term "resident representative" means

2/21/2018

We're partnering with NCHCFA to bring you a new webinar series open to all NCHCFA members. Register now!

Two Poyner Spruill Attorneys Help Work for Tomorrow through Mentor Program at UNC Law

2/20/2018

RALEIGH, NC – Founded in 2016, the McIntyre-Whichard Legal Fellows Program is now in its second year of existence at the University of North Carolina School of Law. The program was founded by two UNC Law School alums and is co-sponsored by the North Carolina Study Center and the UNC Christian Legal Society. The program is named after Poyner Spruill partner and former U.S. Congressman Mike McIntyre and former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Willis Whichard, who are both alums of the university and serve as program mentors.

Poyner Spruill Diversity Committee to host panel discussion with key leaders in the legal field to celebrate Black History Month

2/12/2018

The Poyner Spruill Diversity Committee is celebrating Black History Month by hosting an intimate panel discussion with key leaders who have been successful in the legal field.